Tanya Sweeney: Leaving hospital and the terror of bringing home baby
‘I listened to her quick breaths, worrying that they were either too quick or too slow’
Tanya Sweeney, with baby Isola: at home. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Imagine for one second that you’ve arrived home and found your entire house underwater. Your belongings are afloat in their new watery space.
“I can’t be expected to live like this from now on, can I?” you say, incredulous.
Someone hands you some scuba equipment. “Well, yes. It’ll be fine though. Well probably not really, but sure what can you do?” they shrug.
You panic breathe through your mouth using your new scuba gear. It’s an entirely new and unfamiliar experience. You wonder if you’ll ever breathe through your nose again. Everyone stops by to have a look because, well, it’s an underwater house, isn’t it?
This is pretty much what arriving home with a brand new baby is like.
There is breathlessness. There is flailing. There is panic. There are many, many visitors.
But there’s also a weird, eerie beauty to it all.
Too afraid to do anything as normal as bring her to bed, we kept watch over Isola for an hour at a time
The morning I was discharged from the maternity hospital was utter chaos. I was post-Caesarean section, sore, bleeding into maternity pads that were as chunky as a Bargaintown mattress, and counting down the minutes until I could ring a bell to politely ask for more painkillers. I’d evacuated a healthy, vernix-slicked and beautiful baby girl three days prior.
As is the norm on Day Three of motherhood, I’d been a scramble of raw, exquisite emotion. I’d been assured that the Day Three tears were inescapable, requisite – sure enough, mine arrived bang on time. Any time someone pulled back the cubicle curtain and showed me even a modicum of kindness, I’d dissolve into a delicious release of tears. “Cup of tea?” Wibble. “Need any more diphene?” Weep. “Can we do the heel prick test now?” Sob. It felt so damn good to cry.
Add in mental health nurses, personnel from the birth registry office, audiologists, paediatricians and an out-of-order food vending machine keeping the chocolate hostage, and I was a woman on the verge. My new daughter was oblivious to it all, and was so obliging when trainee doctors needed a baby to examine that she got prodded and poked by the entire class. I stood nearby, sniffling like a puffy cabbage in a dressing gown. Not my finest hour.
And then it was time to make for home, just the three of us. The taxi driver was thrilled with his precious cargo, even if it did take us a stressful 10 minutes to figure out the workings of the car seat.
Out the taxi window, I spotted an old friend holding court outside a cafe among a group of friends. We’d spent many nights together down the years at festivals, club nights and brunches. Seeing her was like a strange postcard from the past. She was getting to stay in the life we both knew, while I was travelling toward a watery, terrifying unknown.
Once B and I got baby Isola inside the door, we sat on the edge of the sofa and kept vigil, watching her chest rise and fall, barely able to believe our outrageously good fortune. The kitchen felt like miles away; doing something as banal as making a cup of tea was barely conceivable. We swaddled her in too many blankets, changed her nappy for the third time in an hour. We were silently breathing through our new scuba equipment. Dusty corners of our brains had been cracked open by this new love, and it was petrifying.
Too afraid to do anything as normal as bring her to bed, we kept watch over Isola for an hour at a time, relieving the other person to take a quick nap. It seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time.
Every intention I’d previously had of being a relaxed, “Seventies” mum dissolved clean away. I held her tiny warm body on to my chest at 3am, marvelling at the softness and the smells and the newness. I listened to her quick breaths, worrying that they were either too quick or too slow. And I knew it in that moment, I was absolutely, completely and utterly done for.